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Essential Guide to Online Shopping

Sandra Prior
Jun 5, 2008
Clued up Consumers are Turning to the Internet for the Lowest Prices, the Widest Choice and the Best Bargains

According to the publicity, the Internet can do many things. It can make you rich, it can make you sexy. It can even help to keep you in touch with friends and family. But, when the digital chips are down, can it help with the important things in life? In short, can it help with the shopping?

Despite numerous teething problems, online shopping has finally taken off and it's not just Net friendly computer products that are being sold over the wire. CDs, DVDs, videos, clothing, holidays, household items, and even groceries can be ordered online for home delivery. Even so, many Net users are wary of shopping on the Internet.

A lack of Net technology and online shops has combined with a general distrust of Internet security to dissuade many people from buying goods and services online. This nascent reluctance to bag Internet bargains has been heightened by largely irrational fears that anonymous hackers are ready and waiting to swoop on Net-borne credit card details and fraudulent merchants are setting up web shops with the express intention of ripping you off.

As long as you're aware of the potential pitfalls, shopping on the Internet need be no more troublesome than a Saturday morning stroll around your town center. In fact, it'll probably be a lot more pleasant because you won't get hit by prams, stuck in queues, blocked in the car park or assailed by nude shop keepers. Shopping over the Net is quick, convenient and cheap.

Whenever possible, shop with companies you have heard of or whose services have been recommended by someone whose opinion you trust. This doesn't mean you have to stay clear of every online outlet whose name is new to you; just take the time to investigate their site to see whether it provides an indication of the sort of service you would expect from them.

You'd be reluctant to use your credit card in a run-down shop that looks like it's managed by a fly-by-night operator, so use the same logic on the Net.

Thanks to advances in Internet security and the presence of web sites run by big-name high-street stores, shopping on the Net is as natural as forgetting your cash-point card's PIN. The latest encryption technology means that typing your credit card details into a web page is less risky than giving your number over the phone or letting a waiter wander into a back room with your card.

When you enter your number, name and address into a web page, the information is scrambled by your web browser before it's sent over the Internet and only the shopping center at the other end of your connection can unscramble it.

One of the advantages of online shopping is that it's very easy to compare prices. In the real world two shops might be at opposite ends of town, separated by crowds of screaming children and a rain-soaked slog up a hill. And if you live in South Africa, there's the plaque of lightning storms, or traffic lights out of order due to load shedding. You'll never get there.

But on the web all shops are next to each other, literally only a click away from one another. As a result, competition is intense with discounts, loyalty schemes and free postage and packing commonplace.

The beauty of online shopping is that you can do all of this from the comfort of your own home, compare prices, make impulse purchases, bag bargains. Just about the only thing you can't do is try on a pair of jeans or squeeze an avocado to see if it's fresh - but we're working on that.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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